Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Survivable Ditchings


US Airways Flight 1549 is reminiscent of other successful ditchings


ntsbWithout diminishing in any way the heroic actions of the pilots, flight attendants and passengers on US Airways Flight 1549, which was successfully ditched in the Hudson River after a bird strike on January 15, it’s important to note that most ditchings actually have a high survival rate.
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survivable ditchings
OVERWATER DEPARTURE. About three minutes after it took off from LaGuardia Airport, US Airways Flight 1549 was in the water. Pictured above, an Airbus A320 departs from the Queens County airport.
Photo by Phil Derner
Without diminishing in any way the heroic actions of the pilots, flight attendants and passengers on US Airways Flight 1549, which was successfully ditched in the Hudson River after a bird strike on January 15, it’s important to note that most ditchings actually have a high survival rate. That’s true across a variety of aircraft types, even when the pilot’s ditching training is minimal, and even when the body of water is the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, which is notorious for swift currents, murkiness and nasty debris. Ditching, by definition, includes at least some planning on the part of the pilot and implies that the aircraft remains somewhat under control during the process of landing on water. Ditching differs from a runway overrun or uncontrolled descent that happens to terminate in water.

On January 30, 1973, a Cessna 150G was en route from Providence, R.I., to Monmouth, N.J., when the engine quit while the airplane neared the Hudson River. The 28-year-old private pilot, the only occupant, wasn’t instrument-rated. His total time was 308 hours (with 304 in Cessna 150s). After electing to ditch in the Hudson, he escaped from the airplane and swam to shore. The plane wasn’t recovered and the reason for the engine failure wasn’t determined.

On November 1, 1985, an instructor and student took off from Morristown, N.J., on a night/VFR flight. The instructor had logged 3,756 hours, with 224 in type. The two headed toward New York City, then south over the Hudson until they were two miles from New Jersey’s Liberty State Park. As they made a left turn to stay over the water, they detected an unusual odor and the propeller pitch decreased, causing the engine to surge. The instructor noticed that the oil-pressure gauge had dropped to zero. He radioed controllers at Newark International Airport and declared an emergency. As they started flying toward Newark, the engine seized. The instructor elected to land in the river; both occupants were rescued by the Coast Guard. The engine’s crankcase was found to have cracked, resulting in a loss of oil



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